Apple files second motion for a place in Lodsys suit against iOS developers

by Phil Hornshaw

The saga of patent suits brought against app developers by tech firm Lodsys continues, this time with the company fighting hard to keep Apple out of the legal battle.

Apple filed a second motion in the case this week asking for a judge to allow it to take part in the defenses of several app developers against whom Lodsys has brought patent suits, according to IP activist Florian Mueller’s blog, FOSS Patents. The motion contains a large brief rebuking the arguments Lodsys made in a brief of its own about two weeks ago, which it filed in response to Apple’s original motion to become part of the case. The Lodsys brief insists that Apple has no standing in the case and is interested only in its bottom line.

The Lodsys case is one of patent licensing for in-app purchases in Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, which it uses for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. Back in May, Lodsys started advising app developers, starting with small, independent companies before moving on to larger, better-known ones like Angry Birds creator Rovio Mobile, that it would begin issuing lawsuits if those developers didn’t start paying licensing fees on patents Lodsys owns on in-app purchasing. Apple, Google and Microsoft all pay licensing fees to Lodsys on these patents for their various mobile operating systems; Lodsys also extended the suit to several Android developers in July, PocketGamer reports.

At first, Lodsys seemed to be targeting independent app developers who couldn’t really protect themselves, starting with about a dozen or so developers too small to really mount a legal defense. It expanded to more developers soon after, but still kept to small targets, leading many to believe Lodsys was “patent trolling,” or trying to extract licensing fees from developers for whom fighting the lawsuits would be too costly. Apple sent a letter to Lodsys after developers asked it for help, stating that Apple’s licensing of in-app purchasing patents extended to all its developers. Obviously, Lodsys didn’t see it that way, and even offered to pay $1,000 to each developer in the suit if a judge ruled against it.

Apple joins the fray

Now, things are heating up in the case as Apple tries to step in. Lodsys clearly doesn’t want to go toe-to-toe with Apple, which has basically unlimited resources to fight the case and a huge incentive to do so. If developers are made to pay licensing fees to Lodsys, many fear other patent holders will step forward and start trying to draw licensing fees when they smell blood in the water. If developers start having to pay too much to develop for Apple’s iOS platform, they could abandon it, which is bad for business for everyone.

Still, Lodsys believes that it should be paid for the patents it owns and that Apple’s licensing of the technology doesn’t give it the authority to extend that license to every developer in the iTunes App Store. But Apple’s legal might could be too much for Lodsys: in its latest brief, Apple dismantled Lodsys’ argument, claiming it was the only company well-versed enough in iOS to adequately defend against Lodsys’ disputes.

Apple claims its involvement in in-app purchases goes beyond what Lodsys assumes, and therefore Apple becomes a “supplier” of in-app purchasing power because it creates the framework through which those purchases can be made, according to PocketGamer.

Where things go next is up to a judge, but the case could turn drastically if the full legal might of Apple is turned against Lodsys, a relatively smaller company. That doesn’t mean Lodsys is guaranteed to lose or Apple to win, but the case could get much tougher than Lodsys anticipated if it has to fight back against Apple. Meanwhile, developers are likely seeing good news in Apple’s insistence in joining the charge. Those that had trouble fighting back against Lodsys may soon have Apple’s giant umbrella protecting them.